Thursday, July 30, 2009

Your Monthly Mix-Tape

I don't know how you got into music*, but my parents introduced me. Whether it was my Mom playing Jim Croce or the Electric Light Orchestra while she cleaned the house, or my dad blaring Van Halen, Bob Seger, or Rush as we drove to and from baseball practices and games, the importance of music was forever underlined for me. Music was never just background noise. It was something to be talked about and thought about. It brought color and depth to life. Lyrics had meaning, and rock stars had little mythologies around them that needed to be deconstructed and talked about. Our tastes have diverged over time, but these songs still hold a special place in my heart.

This mix-tape is for my parents, and for the little boy I once was.

1. Mr. Blue Sky, by Electric Light Orchestra

2. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, by Jim Croce

3. Heresy,by Rush

4. Jamie's Cryin', by Van Halen

5. Her Strut, By Bob Seger

6.If This Is It (Live) , By Huey Lewis & The News

7.Come Sail Away, by Styx

8.My Generation, by The Who

9.Forever And Ever, Amen, by Randy Travis

10.Bicycle Race, by Queen

Have a great weekend!

*Is music 'gotten into'? Or is the capacity to love it hardwired into our brains like language, and the desire to eat, drink, sleep, and reproduce?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


SST just sent me this photo of himself:

I hope it puts the controversy over his ethnic identity to rest.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sometimes I Wish Louis Armstrong Were Still Alive

Louis Armstrong died of a heart attack in 1971. I’m not being tongue in cheek at all when I say that he totally deserved to have an airport named after him. He should be on money. I’d much rather spend traffic time on The Louis Armstrong Highway than The Ronald Reagan.

Armstrong is an important figure in the history of jazz music in particular, but also in the history of music as a whole. He’s certainly important to me. He was somewhere around seventy when he died—a good run—but I can’t help but wish sometime that he was still alive to make music. What would his voice sound like these days? My friend Ryan used to say that Tom Waits was Louis Armstrong’s evil vocal twin. Would Armstrong’s voice be anywhere near as decimated if he had lived to be one hundred years old? I wonder what kind of music he’d be making if he were around today. Some new recordings from Satchmo would surely be a nice treat from time to time. I’ve heard everything that’s already available, time and again. It’s still good, but I’m a patriotic American, so I always want more.

What would the king of the Zulus be playing today if he were still in business? Hopefully not modern R&B, which is way too produced for my taste. Hopefully he’d steer clear of the hip hop beats and duets with Norah Jones. Dippermouth has to be dirty, he’s got to be real. I would hope his new songs would be true to form, traditional affairs.

I first became a serious fan of Louis Armstrong when my grandfather made a cassette copy of his ‘What A Wonderful World’ CD for me. I already knew the title song, because they played it every year at the Dayton Airshow while the Blue Angels would fly, and my parents took us regularly. I was eleven years old when I climbed up on the top bunk of the bunk bed I shared with my little brother, and popped my grandfather’s tape into a little battery powered cassette player. ‘What A Wonderful World’ is an awesome song, but that whole album is killer. The song ‘Hellzapoppin’’ really got me--especially as I moved into my teens—with its Dionysian defiance:

“Raise your glass...the party will be riotous
What a gas...the cops will never quiet us
There's no stoppin'...hellzapoppin'...hellzapoppin'
We'll be hellzapoppin' till the night is through”

Yeah! Total punk rock, but with more humor and less affectation. 'Hellzapoppin' is a great song, but so is ‘Cabaret’, ‘The Home Fire’, and ‘I Guess I’ll Get The Papers And Go Home’. ‘Hello Brother’ has become something of an anthem for me as a family man:

“A man wants to work...for his pay
A man wants a the sun
A man wants a gal proud to say
That shell become his lovin’ wife
He wants a chance to give his kids a better life
Well hello ah.... hello brother”

What working man can’t feel that? And don’t take my word for it: You don’t get the whole vibe until you’ve heard Louis sing it.

What A Wonderful World’ led me to Armstrong’s earlier works with The Hot Fives and Sevens, and other early works, where he got his reputation as a radical trumpet player. He was so aggressive in his playing that he permanently deformed his upper lip, so much so that he was forced to change his playing style later in life (focusing more on vocals), because his embouchure caused him so much discomfort. Sometimes his lip would fill up with pus, and he would pop it (to the disgust of those around) with a pen knife. Speaking of which, no one has been able to touch Armstrong's rendition of 'Mack The Knife'.

I’ve always admired this aspect of Louis Armstrong. He loved his art so much that he let it permanently transform him physically. Just as it should be: Carpenters have rough hands, mechanics have dirty nails, historians have bad eyes. Our passions should ravage us. The world should be able to tell a true craftsman by admiring their deformity.

Louis Armstrong opened the door to jazz for me. Mr. Morgan, my sixth grade music teacher, pushed me along further with a video of a Harry Connick, Jr. concert that he brought in to our class one Friday when (I guess) he didn’t feel like teaching us a new song. Then came the Jazz rich films of Woody Allen, which I explored with my friend Ryan. Jazz got into me. Thanks, Louis! Somebody said jazz is an acquired taste that needs to be eased into, like lobster. Well, I like lobster too. I’m not sure how I eased into the shellfish, but Louis Armstrong helped me ease into jazz.

In Michel Houllebecq’s ‘H.P. Lovecraft: Against The World, Against Life’, he says about both Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft that:

“To understand what’s at issue, one must appreciate the strength of that sense of frustration that overran England at the death of Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle had no choice: he was forced to revive his hero. When, defeated himself by death, the author in turn laid down his arms, a feeling of resigned sadness passed over the world. They would have to be satisfied with the fifty or so existing Sherlock Holmes stories, reading and rereading them all tirelessly. Receiving with a resigned smile the inevitable (and rarely amusing) parodies, keeping in their heart the dream of an impossible prolongation of the central core, of the real heart of the myth. An old Indian army packing-case, where, magically, are discovered some unknown Sherlock Holmes stories…”

And that’s how I feel about Louis Armstrong. He contributed heavily to the mythical structure of my life, and it would be great to hear some newly discovered lost recording. But it’s not to be. There’s not going to be a second act for Louis, just as there’s not going to be one for Doyle or Lovecraft; Apparently, God is as indifferent to jazz as he is to good pulp. Or maybe he’s hording it all for himself.

Either way, we’ll have to survive with what fragments we have of the legends in our lives. We’ll have to patiently wait for that ultimate horn blast that will knock us on our collective asses for good, inevitably with the opening strains of ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’…

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Eyeshot Is Over

Eyeshot is over, and I'm sad to see it go. But honestly, the rationale Lee Klein gives for ending it all is impeccable.

My favorite Eyeshot pieces:

A Glacial Parade, by Brian Foley.

Marlene & Philip, by Ryan Kennebeck.

My two meager contributions to the magazine:

Other Things That Very Well May Eat Me

Lawnmower Season

Pequin (Eyeshot's illegitimate spawn) is still in operation, so there's no reason to despair.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Episcopal Church Looks Forward

I'm not offended by those who opine the Episcopal church's recent decision to allow homosexuals to serve in any level of ministry. Willful ignorance isn't offensive. It's sad, and it should be embarassing (and maybe painful), but it's not offensive. I also have no problem with churches discrediting themselves in the eyes of history, which is what those who would complain about the Episcopal decision are doing.

What I am offended by are people who set themselves up as community leaders and counselors contributing to the stigmatization of a benign orientation by insisting that it is ‘sinful’, and somehow deserving of sanction. This is what church leaders are doing when they decry the Episcopal decision. This is also what so-called moderates are saying when they say ‘We support equal rights for homosexuals, but they are not allowed to serve as leaders in our church unless they do not practice homosexuality’.

There is nothing wrong with homosexuality. There is no credible study that indicates there is anything corrosive about it. This fact has been proven again and again. The only proven negatives to having a homosexual orientation are those associated with living in a society that views the orientation as somehow 'less than', or impure. Homosexuality isn’t a temptation that needs to be overcome, and to suggest otherwise is to betray basic ‘do no harm’ tenets of counseling. Homosexuals in our culture have higher rates of depression and suicide than other minority groups. It's the kind of thinking demonstrated by dissident religious leaders that contribute to those statistics. Those who support the myth that there is something dysfunctional about homosexuality are not acting in good faith towards those who would seek their counsel; They are more concerned with selling a product than they are facilitating healing and growth, and it's shameful.

Thankfully, there are still believers daring enough to honor the spirit of Christ's message over the dubious iron age legalisms that were written about him.

Not only has the Episcopal Church decided to remain relevant, they've decided to do what is right.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

River Interlude 1

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Thursday, July 16, 2009

FDR's Bill Of Rights=Not Scary.

Today I listened to Glenn Beck for a little while as I did some housework. He was talking about 'FDR's Bill Of Rights', as gleaned from one of his Fireside Chats. Beck used his scariest voice to deliver his indictment of some of the terrible 'rights' that may be coming our way under Barack Obama. What are some of these horrible, evil, spine-curling socialisms we should fear? Cut to FDR:
"Necessitous men are not free men. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made. In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed. Among these are the right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation."
Terrifying, right? Well, it gets worse. The socialisms keep coming:
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation. The right of farmers who raise and sell their products at a return which will give them and their families a decent living. The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition. The right of every family to a decent home. The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.
Protection against monopolies, the protection of recreations, homes, fair business practices, healthcare, and education. These are the things we're supposed to be afraid of? Glenn Beck talks about government as if it were some horrible Lovecraftian god, bent on the annihilation of humanity as a whole. I've heard him acknowledge before that government is a useful tool of the people (he compared it to fire), but I don't think he believes it.

Of the major institutions that shape our lives, we (the people) have the most control over government. We don't get to elect CEO's. We don't get to produce Madonna's next album. We do get to vote for our representatives, and they are rightly concerned with what we think.

Government isn't like fire. If it's properly managed, it's more like a fluorescent light bulb. Strict adherence to the perceived values of the founders is a narrow kind of thinking; They had a king stepping on their neck when they wrote the first bill of rights. They weren't exactly thinking about the internet age when they first put quill to parchment. The founders had more basic rights to consider.

The founders were brilliant in laying out the rights that they did lay out, but they could never have dreamed of how far our country has come since then, how educated it's citizens have become, and what a high standard of living we've achieved. We've entered an age (and a wealth) where we can secure a higher level of happiness, health, and enrichment for all of our citizens, with no cost to the freedoms secured by our founding documents. Ours is a country of visionaries.

The stuff FDR is talking about here is that kind of forward thinking that should inspire us to thought and action. Thanks to Glenn Beck for bringing this talk to my attention, and for demonstrating the poverty of his own worldview against the daring vision of one of this country's greatest progressives.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Truth

"If there is a God, it's going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed."-Richard Dawkins, From a TIME magazine debate with Francis Collins (2006)

This quote should have created common ground in the religion v. science war, but why am I not surprised that it didn't?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Medicine Cabinet Recommends

1.The World's Only Poisonous Primate @ Why Evolution Is True: Be sure to watch the cute youtube video after you read about the dark side of the slow loris.

2.I agree with Andrew Sullivan's assessment of President Obama's performance thus far. Let's hope the American people share a similar view. Also, see here for an analysis of of The President's Moscow trip that nicely compliments Mr. Sullivan's observations. Mark Daniels money quote:
"Obama appears intent to follow a foreign policy realist's approach, a departure both from recent Democratic orthodoxy and from the Wilsonian adventurism of his immediate predecessor, Republican President, George W. Bush."

3. Did our ancestors use music as a weapon?

4. Go here to watch the trailer for the upcoming Where The Wild Things Are movie. I'm incredibly excited about taking my kids to go see this. I love the way they're marketing this film, and I love the look of it. It reminds me of one of the kid's movies I would've watched when I was younger, back when movie makers didn't underestimate the kinds of things kids could handle, or the sophistication of their artistic palette.

5. I still get bitten by the H.P. Lovecraft bug intermittently. No one does horror better. I have lots to say about the subject, but, as is usually the case, more has been said by other writers in other places (thankfully. Less pressure.). One of the best Lovecraft commentators is still Michel Houllebecq. Here is a partial translation of his book 'H.P. Lovecraft: Against The World, Against Life'.

6.My wife and kids have been out of town on a camping trip since Friday night (I had to work). Whenever these separations happen, there is a predictable arc of events. On the first night, it's kind of nice to be alone. I cook myself dinner, go for a walk, and then stay up too late watching movies or reading. By the second night, I'm getting a little restless. By the third day I completely miss my family. The bachelor life would be no good for me; I'm thoroughly domesticated. But absence makes the heart grow fonder. It also vastly increases the odds of my building a spud gun.

7.Jason Moran, performing "You've Got To Be Modernistic" Very nice:

Friday, July 3, 2009

Every Politician Should Welcome The Griddle Marks.

When Helen Thomas starts calling out the administration on their attempts to control the media, even the most dyed-in-the-wool Obama supporter should at least arch an eyebrow. One of John McCain's better campaign ideas was to open the president (personally) up to weekly grilling sessions before the House, ala Great Britain's parliament. How to disapprove?

The president should be taken to task for his policies, and should not be allowed to hand pick the most sympathetic of questioners, and the easiest of questions. It should be articulate representatives from the Cato institute and Heritage foundation that should be grilling Robert Gibbs at press conferences, not fawning co-conspirators like Michael Goldfarb. Answering the the toughest questions the loyal opposition has to offer-- in a regular public forum--will keep any administration honest.

To anticipate a few objections: It doesn’t matter how biased Fox news is, and whatever ways the Bush White House attempted to manipulate the media is irrelevant to this conversation. Just because the last guy played fast and loose with civil liberties doesn’t mean we give our guy a pass to do the same.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Where The Mormons Lost Me

Much to my wife’s frequent dismay, I have a habit of inviting door to door evangelists into our house. I invite them to sit on our furniture, and I offer them drinks. Sometimes, our conversations will span frequent sessions, culminating in the inevitable question:

“So, would you like to buy our product?”

Obviously, because I am an incorrigible heretic, the answer has—so far—been ‘No, thank you. But thanks for the conversation’.

I really do enjoy the conversation. I’m interested in evangelism as a person who is interested in finding out things about God (if there are things to be found out about God), but also as a psychology major who is very interested in human relationships, and the mechanisms through which we choose one belief over another, or no belief at all.

One of my longest recurring conversations was with a pair of Mormon disciples. At the time, I didn’t know very much about Mormonism. One of my supervisors at work was a Mormon, and she was very nice. She had given me a copy of The Book of Mormon on lunch one day, and I hadn’t read it. It seemed really contrived to me. She told me about it, told me I should read the whole book, pray sincerely for God to give me a sign that it was true, and to submerge myself in Mormon culture in the meantime.

What kind of sign will God send me?’ I asked.
Oh, I don’t know. It could be a warm feeling in your heart, a prickly feeling on the back of your neck, a simple feeling of confidence in the document.
What does the feeling of confidence feel like?’
‘You’ll see.’
She said, very confidently, very self assuredly.

Of course, plunging into a well of specific religious literature and isolating yourself for long periods of time within a community that ascribes to that literature, is an act that is probably only like to be performed by a few types of people, with only a few possible motives. Type one would be the person who wants the claims made by the religion to appear to be true, so that they can accept the dogma (for whatever reason) and enter into the philosophy, lifestyle, and community promoted by that system. Another type is probably someone who was brought up inside that system, and seeks to come to some kind of personal understanding of that which has been handed down to them, so that they may either embrace it, or reject it, based on their own understanding. The third kind of person would probably be someone making a documentary film, or writing a book.

Since I fit none of these bills, I didn’t see the necessity of reading the entire Book of Mormon, or undergoing the very clear self-propagandizing regimen that was suggested to me*. I would rather skim through the book, talk to some sales representatives about their product, and do some critical analysis by reading oppositional writings, and doing some of my own thinking. I wasn’t sure I could be as straightforward with my supervisor as I might’ve wished, so I was glad when the two young men who came to my door were so eager to answer my questions.

I’m sure we went over all of the basic stuff that everyone goes over when they run into Mormon evangelists. I was pretty fascinated by the idea that our God may not be the first God, and that he has kind of learned how to be a Good God via on the job training. I thought that could go ways to explain a lot of the weird stuff in the Old Testament. Of course, my new friends didn’t like my interpretation of that view, and of course, I didn’t like that these young men had absolutely zero evidence to support any of these strange claims about the nature of things. Eventually, they asked me to pray for the tingly feeling, and I said, no, I would prefer some evidence, and they said, fine, thank you for your time, please reconsider. Then they said a prayer with me and left.

Maybe it’s a surprise to you that I did in fact end up reading large portions of the Book of Mormon. I watched a few documentaries on the subject, and read some other material too. I was fascinated by some of their ideas. That man could earn Godhood was interesting. That you could think of God in the way I had just explained was also pretty neat. That Jesus was my brother (because God is my father!) was a new twist. There are all kinds of unusual and interesting things embedded in Mormon philosophy and history. It seemed totally crazy at first, but—as with all instances of habituation—it became more familiar and even more reasonable to me the further I dove in. That is one of the functions of self-propagandizing.

I started talking to my supervisor about it, and she was very eager to answer my questions. She invited me to functions, and let me borrow books and movies.
One day, I told her I had seen a movie that I thought was really good. It didn’t have anything to do with Mormonism, but it was about belief, and God, and all of that stuff, in kind of a meta-poetic way. It was called ‘Photographing Fairies’. She said it sounded interesting, so I brought it in for her to borrow.

The next time we worked together, I asked her if she had seen it. She kind of scrunched up her face and said,

‘Oh, sorry. I can’t watch this movie. It’s rated R’.

‘What do you mean?’ I said.
‘Mormons aren’t allowed to watch R rated movies.’
‘It was a message delivered to one of our elders.’
‘But the rating system is so subjective!’
‘But this is a good, thoughtful, philosophical movie! It’s beautiful! It got the R rating because it shows a pair of breasts for like, two minutes! And the sex scene is very tame, and it’s between a married couple!’

She shrugged her shoulders, and I relented.

I was probably never going to convert to Mormonism, but if there ever was even a remote chance of my joining up, it was squashed at that moment. I can’t make any claims about God, but I’m fairly certain that if there is a God, he wouldn’t be the kind of philistine the church of Latter Day Saints paints him to be.

I am a person of little faith, but I have more faith than that.

**Thanks to Bob @ The Mormons Are Coming! for linking to this piece, even if he didn't really like it.